Parents aren’t certified — why should HR professionals be? (Letter to the editor)

There is an increasing drive by a group of human resources practitioners to certify human resources professionals first in Ontario and now in the rest of Canada.

But HR, like parenthood, is not an exact science.

Can you imagine a society where parents will have to be certified prior to becoming a parent? Certainly many of us at times wish this would happen, where we read about abuse or neglect of children. However, for all these unfortunate exceptions, the majority of us continue to parent without a formal education in parenting to accomplish this monumental feat. Instead we rely on our understanding of our own upbringing, the experiences of others, literature on the subject of childrearing, our own intrinsic sense of what is right and a dose of good luck to coach our children to adulthood.

After all, human behaviour is not an exacting science, in the same league as mathematics or the natural sciences. Let’s try an example. Teenagers wish to be with their friends on Saturday night. Parents will have to assess whether the child has a curfew or not. Having established the “rule,” what happens when the rule is broken? Will the parent hit the child; “ground” the child; deprive the child in some fashion or do nothing.

I suggest that we will all have a different perspective on this subject. Which is the right answer? Would a “certified” parent know better how to deal with this matter?

Human resource management falls squarely into the same type of deliberation. The values of an organization are customarily those of the CEO or the executive group of the organization. These values with all their imperfections generally translate into the employee relations practices in the organization.

Let’s consider another example to make the point. Employees are looking gloomy in a steel company. The future doesn’t look too bright. Globalization, new materials and technology have reshaped the entire industry.

The workforce continues to shrink, little “new blood” is coming into the organization and those who have remained are counting their days to retirement.

The problem is pervasive. This is not a human resources problem. This is an organizational problem requiring effort by the entire leadership to address the matter.

It may be given to the senior HR person in the company to seek out solutions or for that matter any other manager, but rest assured, the ultimate decision for a remedy will not rest with the HR department.

It will reside with the CEO or leadership group. Furthermore, a certified human resources practitioner will not necessarily have the right answer for this problem because there is no textbook or scientific answer.

Perhaps a voluntary severance program is appropriate or a more rigorous effort at performance management. Perhaps the compensation structure should be altered to create a larger incentive base. Perhaps the command-and-control hierarchical model should be replaced with a de-layered and team-based organization model.

Perhaps there should be a revised approach to collective bargaining. Perhaps all of these initiatives should be undertaken.

The CEO charged with the responsibility to successfully shepherd the company into the future may not have a certificate in management. He will in all likelihood however have an intuitive sense, has read books or attended workshops and has work experience to signal the appropriate response.

For those who are in human resources, I suggest you should be less preoccupied with certification in the art of human resources.

Instead there should be greater emphasis on learning about the business in which you operate and thereby more likely to make an organizational contribution. It will be a shame to see a whole new generation of Certified Human Resources Professionals (CHRPs) thinking that the CHRP is a ticket to the executive role in HR.

Unfortunately, they may not be invited into the decision-making forum of the organization because the organization has chosen to relegate HR to report to the senior finance person, as was the case up until the early ’80s.

That we manage the human resources function does not give us a monopoly on employee relations in an organization. Every manager and supervisor in an organization is a human resources manager.

If you have applied for certification, you quickly discover the test for inclusion and exclusion from a bargaining unit. The supervisor, in order to be excluded must perform certain functions. These were articulated in an arbitration award as follows:

•the power to hire;

•the power to fire;

•the right to direct the workforce;

•the power to grant time off;

•the power to grant or effectively recommend wage increases, promotions and other similar matters;

•participation in the grievance process on behalf of the employer;

•the power to discipline employees;

•attendance at managerial meetings in which labour relations are discussed and formulated;

•enjoyment of the usual management perquisites; and/or

•dissimilarity of function.

Study the list and you discover that a supervisor, when properly selected and trained, is truly a human resources manager for the employees he oversees.

Organizations should therefore direct more financial resources to upgrade supervisory and management personnel and improve the selection process for these roles. This will certainly improve the employee relations in any organization without the need for an expansive formal human resources department. After all, human resources often exists to compensate for the deficiencies elsewhere in the organization.

So let’s let parents parent and let’s let supervises supervise and keep the internal experts to a minimum.

John Platz is president of Platz & Associates, an HR consulting firm based in Belwood, Ont. He can be contacted at (519) 843-1574 or visit

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